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SoE 2012 > Biodiversity > 5.1 Native fauna and threatened species

 

Biodiversity chapter 5


5.1 Native fauna and threatened species

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Biodiversity

5.1 Native fauna and threatened species

The overall diversity and richness of native species in New South Wales remain under threat of further decline. Thirty-five additional species have been listed as threatened under NSW legislation since 2009, including 11 terrestrial vertebrate species. The conservation status of 66% of terrestrial vertebrate species still remains non-threatened.

A general pattern of decline in biodiversity over the longer term is evident in changes to the extent and abundance of many native vertebrate species. At the same time, many species less susceptible to existing pressures have maintained their distributions, while a small number of adaptable species have flourished.

In terms of declines detected over historical time frames of around 200 years, birds have been more resistant to change than other vertebrate groups, whereas there have been substantial declines in mammals, especially small- to medium-sized ground-dwelling species.

Currently, 989 species of plants and animals, 49 populations and 107 ecological communities are listed as threatened in NSW legislation, and 45 key threatening processes have been identified. These numbers continue to rise.

Overall outcomes for native species represent the cumulative impact of many diverse pressures and threats. The main threats to native species are vegetation clearing, habitat degradation and invasive species, with vertebrate fauna in particular impacted by foxes and cats on the mainland and introduced rodents on islands.

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NSW indicators

Indicator and status

Trend

Information availability

Terrestrial mammals: long-term (~200 year) loss of distribution

Stable

limited

Birds: long-term (~200 year) loss of distribution

Stable

limited

Proportion of vertebrate fauna species that is non-threatened

Decreasing

resonable

Number of threatened species, communities and populations

Increasing

resonable


Notes: Terms and symbols used above are defined in About SoE 2012 at the front of the report.


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Introduction

Biodiversity is the diversity of ecosystems, the species and populations they support and the genes they contain. It also encompasses the complex interactions between living organisms and the environment which provide the basis for a range of ecosystem services and maintain the health and productivity of the land.

NSW has a rich biodiversity, much of which is recognised as being internationally significant.

It is seldom possible to monitor or report on biodiversity across its breadth (Saunders et al. 1998). Because of the paucity of data for other groups, this section is largely restricted to dealing with the status of native fauna, particularly terrestrial vertebrates, and native plant and animal species listed as threatened under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (TSC Act) and Fisheries Management Act 1994 (FM Act).

A shrinking distribution is often the first and only evidence that a species is declining in numbers. Declines in many species have been under way for decades or longer, but have largely gone unrecorded. Heightened awareness of the plight of native flora and fauna over the past two decades has revealed the extent of many of these declines and the threats that cause them. For example, the eastern quoll once ranged over most of eastern NSW, but is now found only in Tasmania, representing a 100% decline in distribution in NSW which occurred before any estimates had been undertaken. In western NSW, 24 species of mammal became locally extinct between European settlement in 1841 and Federation in 1901 (Morton 1990; Lunney et al. 2000).

Much effort has gone into arresting declines that were largely incurred before the NSW Government recognised the need to formally protect native species. Growing knowledge about the extent of declines in species has the potential to mask recent achievements in stabilising declines and recovering some species.

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Status and trends

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Native fauna

The status of species under threat varies regionally and across Australia. Some species lost from NSW, such as the pig-footed bandicoot, are extinct throughout Australia, while others, such as the numbat, are still found elsewhere in Australia. A number of species no longer exist on the NSW mainland, but survive on predator-free islands. The brush-tailed rock-wallaby is listed under both the TSC Act and Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cwlth), but is under greater threat in Victoria than NSW. Conversely, the koala is threatened in NSW but not in Victoria, where is it regarded as being over-abundant.

Declines in distribution and abundance

The lack of data makes it difficult to assess the distribution and abundance or conservation status of many species of native fauna, particularly those that are rare. The first comprehensive assessment of vertebrate fauna in NSW was undertaken in 1992 (Lunney et al. 2000) to determine which vertebrate species should be listed as threatened under the TSC Act and which did not require listing. SoE 2009 (DECCW 2009a) provided clear evidence that the decline of NSW species was ongoing and concluded that the long-term sustainability of many species was poor.

An estimated 897 species of native terrestrial vertebrates were found in NSW at the time of European settlement. Long-term changes in distribution since settlement have been estimated for all species for which there is adequate and reliable data (Mahon et al. 2011), using a methodology that relies on data collected at low intensity but rigorously and continuously over 200 years. The cumulative record can be used to build up and describe overall patterns of distribution over longer time frames.

The outcomes of this analysis were presented for mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles in Figure 7.2 of SoE 2009 (DECCW 2009a). As the outcomes described by this data are only expected to change slowly, over much longer time frames than the present reporting cycle of three years, the results of the 2009 analysis still apply.

The results for birds and mammals shown in Figure 5.1 illustrate the best and worst outcomes for the different vertebrate groups.

Figure 5.1: Long-term loss of distribution for native mammals and birds

Figure 5.1

Download Data

Source: Mahon et al. 2011; DECCW 2009a

Notes: Presumed extinct – 100% change (contraction) in distribution
Severe decline – 50–<100% change in distribution
Moderate decline – 25–<50% change in distribution
No significant decline – less than 25% change in distribution

n = the total number of species recorded as inhabiting NSW at the time of European settlement, but not including species regarded as 'vagrants' (occasional or accidental sightings of species well outside their normal range)


Over the longer term, outcomes for birds have been much better than for mammals, with only 2% of bird species (12 species of 452) becoming extinct compared with 19% of mammals (26 of 138 species). Losses of distribution of 50% or greater (including extinctions) involved only 6% of birds (31 species) compared with 29% of mammals (40 species).

The data reveals that, historically, birds have been significantly less susceptible to the pressures that have affected other terrestrial vertebrates, particularly mammals. Nine of the 12 bird extinctions occurred on Lord Howe Island which is a localised hotspot for bird extinctions. If these figures are disregarded, the persistence and survival of bird species on mainland NSW is even more pronounced.

However, shorter term data on bird populations produced over the past 10 years indicates that their numbers and range have recently declined significantly (Garnett et al. 2010; Mahon et al. 2011). This suggests that the relatively good outcomes for birds recorded over longer time frames may not be sustainable. Populations of woodland birds have declined the most (MacNally et al. 2009; Paton & O'Connor 2010), due to the extensive clearing of woodlands described in Biodiversity 5.2 and the effects of extended drought over much of the past decade.

Patterns of decline in vertebrate fauna groups

Most extinctions of native fauna in NSW have been in small- to medium-sized species of ground-dwelling mammals, including small wallabies, native mice, bandicoots and bettongs (Dickman et al. 1993; Lunney et al. 2000). Many of these species inhabited arid shrublands and grasslands in the west of the state and most of them had become extinct by the end of the nineteenth century. Predation by foxes and cats and overgrazing by stock have been attributed as the main causes. Other factors that may also have contributed to the decline include competition with invasive species, such as rabbits and goats, and the habitat degradation they cause, as well as changed fire regimes.

Historically, species that were habitat or dietary specialists have been the most vulnerable to extinction. Species that survived occupied a broader range of habitats and had broader dietary requirements. A similar pattern is also evident in surviving mammal species, with non-threatened species generally occupying a greater range of habitats than those under threat. Ground-dwelling mammals that occupy a broad range of habitats, such as woodlands and forests, as well as grasslands and shrublands, have better prospects for survival than those that occupy a narrower habitat range. The prospects for survival of arboreal or tree-dwelling species are significantly greater than those of ground-dwelling species (Lunney et al. 2000).

Regional patterns are also evident in the extinction or persistence of species. For example, nine of the 12 species of birds that are extinct in NSW were found only on Lord Howe Island, with human settlement and introduced rodents being the major pressures. The other three species were found in central or western NSW.

The largest number of mammal species, both threatened and non-threatened, are found in north-eastern NSW, where open forest habitats contain 38 non-threatened and 33 threatened mammal species. However, the habitat where the highest levels of mammal extinctions have occurred, by number and proportion, is the semi-arid shrubland in the west of the state, with 18 extinct species (Lunney et al. 2000).

An example of decline – koalas

As part of the process of preparing the approved Recovery Plan for the Koala (DECC 2008a), a major statewide survey of koalas was undertaken. This showed that koalas are concentrated along the north coast and in the north-east of the state within the eastern edge of the Murray–Darling Basin, particularly on the Liverpool Plains around Gunnedah. Comparison with a similar survey in 1986–87 showed that in contrast to general declines elsewhere in NSW, the koala population on the Liverpool Plains had expanded in the intervening two decades, where it was using trees planted in the 1990s to combat soil degradation and erosion as habitat (Lunney et al. 2009). However, intense heatwaves during the drought in 2009 killed about a quarter of this population, showing that short-term fluctuations in numbers also need to be considered when assessing the status of fauna populations.

Species with stable populations

Assessment of change in species distribution and abundance tends to focus on declines because this is the most common change. However, Figure 5.1 shows that the distributions of most bird species (for which there is sufficient data) have not declined over the long term. Disregarding the figures for extinctions, even in the case of terrestrial mammals, slightly more species have stable distributions than declining ones. Therefore, while many populations of species are declining in numbers and range due to human-caused habitat disturbance, many other species have been less susceptible to the effects of these pressures and maintained relatively stable populations.

Some species are more adaptable and can take advantage of human disturbances, even becoming nuisances which affect or interfere with human activities. The nuisance may be local – such as brush-tailed possums in the roofs of houses, ibises near airport runways or at waste disposal sites, and flying-foxes in orchards or near houses and schools – or regional – such as kangaroos on rural lands.

There is also some limited evidence that a few native species may be expanding in numbers or range, but such outcomes are rarely studied and difficult to demonstrate conclusively. However, some native species have become invasive after being translocated from their natural habitats, particularly native freshwater fish (see Table 5.12 and Table 5.17).

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Threatened species

Species considered to be threatened can be listed as 'extinct', 'critically endangered', 'endangered' or 'vulnerable' in the schedules to the TSC Act or FM Act. Threatened populations and ecological communities are also listed in these Acts. Scientific committees established under both Acts evaluate all submissions for adding or removing species from the lists.

The conservation status of a species is based on its prospects for survival, its numbers and patterns of reproduction, and the pressures and risks that threaten it. This assessment is distinct from the analyses of species distributions and abundance described above, but population data would contribute to assessing a species' conservation status when it is available. Despite evidence of a decline in its abundance and range, a species may not be listed as threatened if its survival is not considered to be at risk.

Listed threatened species, populations and ecological communities

At 31 December 2011, 989 species in NSW were listed as threatened in the TSC and FM Acts. Over the past three years, 35 additional species have been added to the listings, including 11 terrestrial vertebrate species – an increase in listing of 3.7%. The number of extinct species has increased by three.

Table 5.1 displays numbers of listings for various plant and animal groups.

Table 5.1: Number of listed threatened species, populations and ecological communities in NSW

Taxa

No. of NSW native species

Extinct

Critically endangered

Endangered

Vulnerable

No. of threatened species listed

% of species listed

Endangered populations

Mammals

138

25

2

16

39

82

59%

10

Marine mammals

40

0

0

3

4

7

17%

0

Birds

452

12

11

23

90

136

30%

7

Amphibians

83

0

5

12

11

28

34%

1

Reptiles

230

1

0

18

23

42

18%

1

Plants

4677

33

44

335

231

643

14%

25

Aquatic plants and algae

?

1

1

0

0

2

?

1

Freshwater fish

55

0

2

6

1

9

16%

3

Marine fish, sharks and rays

?

1

1

1

3

6

?

0

Terrestrial invertebrates

?

1

2

14

0

17

?

1

Aquatic invertebrates

?

2

1

3

2

8

?

0

Fungi

?

0

0

5

4

9

?

0

Total

?

76

69

436

408

989

?

49

Source: Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and Department of Primary Industries (DPI) data 2012

Notes: Based on listings at 31 December 2011


Terrestrial mammals are particularly at risk, with 59% of all species in NSW now identified as threatened. Other fauna groups to be severely affected include amphibians (34%), birds (30%), reptiles (18%), marine mammals (18%) and freshwater fish (16%). A total of 643 plants (14%) have also been identified as threatened.

The number of endangered populations is now 49, an increase of five (12%) since 2008, with populations of plants, mammals and birds being most represented. There are now 107 threatened ecological communities, an increase of 16 (18%) over the past three years.

Figure 5.2: Changes in total listings of threatened species and ecological communities, 1995–2011

Figure 5.2

Download Data

Source: OEH data 2012


Figure 5.2 shows the growth in the total number of listings of threatened species and ecological communities since 1995. Over the same period, the conservation status of some listed species and communities has continued to deteriorate, with many moving into higher risk categories and closer to the risk of extinction. There are now 505 endangered or critically endangered species, compared with 471 in 2009 and 251 in 1995.

Interpretation of threatened species listings

The significance of changes in the number of listings of threatened species between reporting cycles and their interpretation is the subject of ongoing scientific investigation and debate. Some changes in conservation status may reflect improvements in the availability of information and knowledge rather than recent changes in species' prospects for survival (Keith & Burgman 2004). This is possible for most flora and fauna groups, such as invertebrates, where the full number of species is still not known with any certainty.

However, terrestrial vertebrates are relatively well-studied and the conservation status of all species in these groups was assessed soon after the TSC Act was introduced (Lunney et al. 2000). Any subsequent changes in status in these groups are more likely to reflect actual changes in their prospects for survival than recently filled gaps in information.

In the case of populations and ecological communities, their description or classification is open-ended so any changes reflect a pattern of new listings that had not previously been assessed. It is not possible to interpret these patterns as it is not clear when the actual declines that resulted in listing occurred.

Species that are not threatened

Where the total number of species in a group is known and there is sufficient information to systematically assess their conservation status , their overall prospects for survival can be described by looking at changes in the proportion of species that are listed as threatened over time. This information is available for terrestrial vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians) and is shown in Figure 5.3.

Of the 903 terrestrial vertebrate species that inhabited NSW, 662 or 73% were not listed as threatened in the first assessment of conservation status, completed in 1995. This number has declined to 590 or 65% in 2011. Terrestrial vertebrates are the most well-known and best-studied group and the deteriorating conservation status of these species reflects the increasing number and intensity of pressures affecting the biodiversity of NSW. There is no reason to doubt that other, less well-studied groups are declining similarly.

Figure 5.3: Changes in the number of vertebrate species not listed as threatened under the TSC Act, 1995–2011

Figure 5.3

Download Data

Source: OEH data 2012

Notes: For the purposes of this analysis, 'vertebrate species' refers to mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. It does not include fish, which are listed separately under the FM Act or marine mammals about which less is known due to their cryptic lifestyle and habits.


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Pressures

The most important threats to ecosystems around the world have been identified (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005) as:

  • habitat change (land-use change, physical modiļ¬cation of rivers or withdrawal of water from rivers)
  • over-exploitation
  • invasive species
  • pollution
  • climate change.

The threats to biodiversity in NSW are varied and are described in greater detail in other sections of this report, including:

Over-exploitation and pollution are less substantial threats in the NSW context.

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Main threats to threatened species

When a species, population or ecological community is listed as being threatened under the TSC Act or FM Act, the main pressures and threats affecting its conservation status are also described. These threats have been analysed for all threatened species listed in the TSC Act to identify the threats that have the greatest impact on biodiversity and the environment in NSW (Coutts-Smith & Downey 2006). The pressure affecting the largest number of threatened species in NSW (87%) is the clearing and disturbance of native vegetation, followed by invasive pest and weed species (70%).

Introduced pests are likely to have had the greatest impact on native fauna. In particular foxes and cats are considered to be responsible for the majority of fauna extinctions in NSW (Morton 1990; Dickman 1996a; Dickman 1996b). Based on the evidence above, the clearing of native vegetation and impacts of introduced species are therefore the most significant threats to biodiversity in NSW. However, many threats operate together to hasten the decline of species and communities and species often face multiple threats, requiring an integrated set of targeted actions to ensure their survival.

Listed key threatening processes

The biodiversity of NSW is subject to an increasing number and range of threats. The TSC Act and FM Act both list the key threatening processes (KTPs) that impact on native plants and animals. At 31 December 2011, there were 45 KTPs listed for NSW, an increase of five over the preceding three years. Thirty-seven were listed in the TSC Act and eight listed in the FM Act. There is, however, some overlap in the threats listed, with climate change, shark meshing and changes to river flow regimes listed in both Acts in some form.

Table 5.2 summarises the types of KTPs listed. Over 50% of all KTPs relate to invasive species, with 23 associated with pests and weeds and a further five pertaining to pathogens and diseases.

Table 5.2: Summary of the key threatening processes listed in NSW, 2011

Issue

Number of KTPs

Invasive species

23

Habitat change

10

Disease

5

Over-exploitation

3

Climate change

2

Altered fire regimes

1

Pollution

1

Total

45


Source: OEH and DPI data 2011

Notes: At 31 December 2011


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Climate change

As many Australian species are adapted to highly variable climates, they are likely to have some capacity to cope with expected changes in climate. However, their resilience may have been eroded by existing pressures on biodiversity which have resulted in documented declines. Climate change is expected to exacerbate the effects of existing threats and introduce additional pressures (Steffen et al. 2009; DECCW 2010a; Hughes 2011).

Studies suggest that climate change could surpass habitat destruction as the greatest global threat to biodiversity over the next few decades (Leadley et al. 2010). Its likely effects include changes to species' distributions and the timing of their life cycles, and disruptions to food chains (Bellard et al. 2012). Species with broader geographic and habitat ranges, dietary requirements and environmental tolerances are expected to cope better and some will benefit from a warming climate (Chessman 2011).

The composition and function of ecosystems will be affected by changes in fire regimes and hydrological flows, as well as in the distribution and abundance of species. Many of the most vulnerable ecosystems in Australia are found in NSW and are sensitive to changes in climate. These include ecosystems that only exist at certain elevations, coastal floodplains and wetlands, the wetlands and floodplains of the Murray–Darling Basin, temperate eucalypt forests, and saltmarshes and mangroves. The main threats to these ecosystems are extreme weather events and changes in water balance and hydrology (Laurence et al. 2011).

There is evidence that recent climatic and atmospheric changes are already having wide-ranging effects on species (OEH 2011a). Long-term studies of 24 species of birds migrating to south-eastern Australia each year indicate that 12 species are arriving earlier by 3.5 days each decade and leaving earlier by 5.1 days each decade (Beaumont et al. 2006). Birds of the same species tend to have larger body sizes in cooler climates, so in NSW larger birds are usually found further south in their range. For eight species, birds with smaller body sizes are now being found further south in NSW, consistent with the effects of a warming climate (Gardner et al. 2009).

Rising temperatures have caused bold-striped cool skinks in south-eastern Australia to change the depth of their nests and the time at which they lay their eggs. Nest temperature affects the sex of their offspring, so more females are now being born (Telemeco et al. 2009).

A recent study found that the main factor affecting the distribution of the platypus had switched from being the availability of aquatic habitat to heat tolerance (estimated by annual maximum temperature). This switch is directly attributable to temperature changes in south-eastern Australia and raises concerns for the future of the species (Klamt et al. 2011).

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Lack of Information

Knowledge of the conservation status of species has improved markedly over the past 20 years. There is now much more information available on the distribution and abundance of terrestrial vertebrates, but less is known about other groups. Patterns of decline likely to have been present for many years are still being discovered in the less well-studied groups of species, together with declines that have occurred more recently. For invertebrates, microorganisms and many plant groups, information is more likely to exist for only a few isolated species and this provides little insight into the broader status of, and prospects for, those groups.

It is unrealistic to expect that a full range of biodiversity could ever be monitored systematically with available resources. It is therefore an ongoing challenge to optimise the monitoring information that is collected so it can inform effective decision-making for managing biodiversity. Long-term monitoring projects are essential for detecting changes in patterns of distribution and abundance and the dynamics affecting them, so these can be managed appropriately while there is still scope for beneficial outcomes.

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Responses

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Established responses

NSW 2021

NSW 2021: A plan to make NSW number one (NSW Government 2011) is the Government's 10-year plan for NSW. Under Goal 22 – 'Protect our natural environment', the plan contains the following target: 'Protect and conserve land, biodiversity and native vegetation'. Strategies for achieving this target are:

  • 'Identify and seek to acquire land of high conservation and strategic conservation value, for permanent conservation measures'
  • 'Establish voluntary arrangements with landowners over the next decade to bring an average 20,000 hectares per year of private land under conservation management and an average 300,000 hectares per year of private land being improved for sustainable management'.

NSW 2021 identifies actions to reduce 'red tape' (Goal 4), which includes reducing barriers associated with biodiversity controls. It specifically seeks to remove the need for dual approvals from the NSW and Australian governments for protecting threatened species and developing a common set of principles and practices to apply to offsetting disturbances to biodiversity.

Legislation

Legislation for protecting threatened species in NSW includes the:

In accordance with section 157 of the TSC Act, a review is being undertaken to determine whether its policy objectives remain valid and the terms of the legislation are still appropriate for securing those objectives. A similar review of the FM Act was completed and tabled in Parliament in 2011 with no changes to the objectives of the Act proposed. A number of recommendations relating to aquatic habitat protection and threatened species conservation were made, and public consultation papers are being developed outlining options to improve the legislation in these areas.

Strategic policy framework

Over the past 10 years, there has been a shift in focus from recovering individual threatened species, an approach which is largely reactive, to a more strategic focus on conservation across the whole landscape and the protection of communities and habitats. Consistent with this approach, there has been more emphasis on benefiting as many species as possible by addressing general threats to biodiversity and the processes that lead to decline. Nevertheless, for many threatened species, their prospects for survival can only be improved through undertaking a specific set of management actions at identified priority sites.

A biodiversity strategy is under development and the Draft New South Wales Biodiversity Strategy 2010–2015 (DECCW 2010b) was released for public consultation from November 2010 to February 2011.

Priorities action statements

Priorities action statements (PAS) provide a strategic framework for coordinating conservation and management actions across the more than 1000 entities (threatened species, populations and communities) that are listed as threatened in NSW. One PAS is in place for entities listed in the TSC Act and one for entities listed in the FM Act.

With the implementation of the PAS for both Acts, NSW became one of the first jurisdictions in the world to formally document the management requirements of its threatened species, populations and communities. Following its first three years of operation (2007–10), the performance of the PAS for the TSC Act is being reviewed to revitalise threatened species management in NSW.

Threat abatement plans

Threat abatement plans (TAPs) have been developed to manage some listed key threatening processes (KTPs). These include TAPs for the red fox, bitou bush and boneseed, and gambusia under the TSC Act, and a TAP for the removal of woody debris from rivers and streams under the FM Act.

Each TAP:

  • outlines actions to manage the relevant key threatening process
  • provides a program and timetable for carrying out the actions
  • explains how the success of these actions will be measured.

BioBanking

The Biodiversity Banking and Offsets Scheme (BioBanking) is a market-based scheme designed to reduce the impacts of development on biodiversity, particularly threatened species and ecological communities. BioBanking enables developers to offset the impacts of development on biodiversity at one site by improving its management at other sites, provided that overall biodiversity values are improved or maintained. Offset (biobank) sites are expected to contain the same threatened species or ecological communities as those affected by the development and must be managed for conservation in perpetuity.

BioBanking is currently being reviewed to identify its strengths and challenges, ensure it achieves effective environmental outcomes and is practical to use.

Planning and biocertification

The Biodiversity Certification Assessment Methodology (DECCW 2011) was introduced in February 2011. Biodiversity certification provides a streamlined process for assessing the biodiversity of areas proposed for development during strategic planning and a range of enduring options for offsetting impacts on biodiversity. After biodiversity certification is conferred on an area, development may proceed without the usual requirement for site-by-site assessments of threatened species listed in the TSC Act.

On-ground programs and management

The strategic framework described above provides direction for a range of conservation programs and activities that are delivered locally and regionally. These programs protect native species, reduce threatening processes and provide effective conservation outcomes.

Reservation

A dedicated system of national parks and reserves is the cornerstone of conservation efforts to preserve and protect biodiversity and ecosystems in NSW. Approximately 8.8% of land and 34% of NSW marine waters have been incorporated into the terrestrial and marine reserve systems. Conservation in reserves is being supplemented by conservation measures on other public and private lands, which are described in Biodiversity 5.3. Under NSW 2021, the NSW Government has committed to establishing more national parks, including the new Dharawal National Park.

Recovery plans for threatened species

Both the TSC and FM Acts provide for the development of recovery plans for threatened species. Targeted recovery plans set out management actions to ensure the survival of high-profile, complex or critically endangered species. However, around 90% of species listed as threatened under the TSC Act are not covered by a recovery plan and are managed under the PAS system. Nineteen per cent of species listed under the FM Act have recovery plans in place, with recovery and threat abatement strategies for the remainder incorporated into the PAS for the FM Act.

Recovery of species

The status of some threatened species such as the Lord Howe woodhen, little tern and Gould's petrel has improved through direct conservation action. Recovery actions for Gould's petrel have increased numbers from fewer than 250 breeding pairs in the early 1990s to about 1000 pairs, as shown in Figure 5.4 (Priddel & Carlile 2009). In addition, a second colony of this island-nesting seabird has now been established through the translocation of nestlings (Priddel et al. 2006). Accordingly, the listing of this species has changed from endangered to vulnerable. To date, this is the only instance of a threatened species in NSW having improved its conservation status as a direct result of such actions.

Figure 5.4: Number of breeding pairs of Gould's petrel, 1989–2010

Figure 5.4

Download Data

Source: OEH data 2012


Management actions have significantly reduced the impact of invasive species on some NSW offshore islands. Exotic rodents and rabbits have been eradicated from several islands (Priddel et al. 2011), which has reduced predation on, and competition with, seabirds and other native species, and facilitated the return of some species previously eliminated by these pests, such as the white-faced storm-petrel. The removal of the highly invasive weed Kikuyu grass from Montague Island has stopped little penguins becoming entangled in the grass, improving their survival rate.

The critically endangered Lord Howe phasmid (or giant stick insect) has been successfully bred in captivity, for reintroduction to Lord Howe Island once rats and mice have been eradicated. The phasmid was once common on Lord Howe Island, but disappeared soon after rats arrived in 1918 after a cargo ship ran aground. It was thought to be extinct until a tiny population was rediscovered in 2001 (Priddel et al. 2003).

Natural resource management

NSW natural resource management programs are primarily delivered regionally through the state's 13 catchment management authorities (CMAs). The CMAs reflect regional priorities and sensitivities in their catchment action plans. These plans provide the direction and framework for delivering programs regionally while incorporating statewide targets and objectives. CMAs engage with their local communities, and support private and public land managers and community volunteers in maintaining and restoring the natural environment.

For the first time, the collective actions of the CMAs and government agencies can now be compiled and reported on in a common framework for describing program performance, and this reporting will be improved and refined in the future. It is recognised that in natural resource management it can take a long time for the outputs of programs to be fully effective, and reach the critical levels needed to translate into measurable outcomes and environmental change. Actions benefiting biodiversity throughout 2010 are summarised in Table 5.3.

Table 5.3: Combined performance outputs of programs delivered regionally for natural resource management in NSW during 2010

Natural resource management actions

Area (ha)

Total area of native vegetation protected and actively managed under new conservation covenants on public and private land, including:

859,500

– Area of land added to the national parks system

378,600

– Area of native vegetation protected by property vegetation plans on public or private land

3,000

Total area of native vegetation where vegetation condition was improved, including:

1,360,000

– Area of terrestrial vegetation where vegetation condition was improved

730,000

– Area of riparian vegetation where vegetation condition was improved

20,400

– Area of wetland and aquatic vegetation where vegetation condition was improved

127,000

Total area of land managed to control or eradicate new, widespread or invasive weeds

3,500,000

Total area of land managed to reduce the impact of feral pest animals, including:

5,300,000

– Area where specific pest control activities were carried out (baiting, trapping, shooting)

984,000

Source: OEH data 2011


Under the NSW 2021 target to protect and conserve land, biodiversity and native vegetation, the NSW Government is committed to working with CMAs and local community groups to deliver programs that will:

  • regenerate degraded natural bushland, including riverbanks and degraded waterways, through a $10-million fund
  • purchase and protect strategic areas of high conservation value and ensure more green spaces across Sydney and NSW through the $40-million Green Corridors Program
  • increase Aboriginal participation in natural resource management by supporting Aboriginal Green Teams and other Aboriginal groups working to protect and conserve natural environments
  • better protect threatened and iconic species, such as koalas, and review the PAS for the TSC Act to enable community groups and businesses to get involved in threatened species conservation.

Regulation of clearing

The clearing of native vegetation and harvesting of non-plantation native forest timber on rural lands are regulated under the Native Vegetation Act 2003 and enhanced systems for enforcing and monitoring compliance are now in place. Approvals to clear native vegetation have fallen significantly since the introduction of the Act. At the same time, measures to promote revegetation and improve the condition and management of native vegetation are being delivered regionally through property vegetation plans established by the CMAs and implemented by landowners (Biodiversity 5.2). Corridors and buffers are being established through urban planning processes.

Management and control of invasive species

Eradication of widespread invasive species is seldom feasible. Therefore, control of some high-priority invasive species, such as foxes and bitou bush, is specifically targeted at sites of high conservation value. Control is delivered through TAPs which facilitate whole-of-government coordination across agencies and local authorities. Broadscale rabbit control is being provided through the release of rabbit haemorrhagic disease, while rats, mice and rabbits have been eradicated from some NSW islands. CMAs are responsible for identifying priority weeds regionally and developing programs to manage them (Biodiversity 5.4).

Management of native species

Plans are needed for the management of some native fauna in NSW. Licences have been issued to manage 50 species of native fauna in NSW at least once in recent decades. Licensing is also required to conduct research to better understand and conserve native fauna and to look after animals that are taken into care for rehabilitation and subsequent release. Up to 70,000 native animals are taken into care each year.

The Kangaroo Management Program monitors numbers of the four large kangaroo species in NSW to ensure that populations do not expand at the expense of other native fauna. Changes to benefit stock, such as clearing of woodlands, removing dingos and providing watering points, have all contributed to increasing the populations of kangaroos, which are regarded as pests and culled on agricultural and pastoral lands.

Adaptation to climate change

Priorities for Biodiversity Adaptation to Climate Change (DECCW 2010c) was produced in response to the listing of anthropogenic climate change as a key threatening process under the TSC Act. The report outlines priority measures for dealing with the effects of climate change over the next five years, which focus on four key areas:

  • enhancing understanding of the likely responses of biodiversity to climate change and readjusting management programs where necessary
  • protecting a diverse range of habitats by building a comprehensive, adequate and representative public reserve system in NSW, with a focus on under-represented bioregions
  • increasing opportunities for species to move across the landscape by working with partners and the community to protect habitat and increase connectivity by consolidating areas of vegetation in good condition
  • assessing adaptation options for ecosystems most at risk from climate change in NSW.

Management of other threats

The extraction and use of water from rivers and groundwater sources is now largely regulated and specific allocations are made for environmental flows (see Water 4.1 and Water 4.2).

Management of fire has focused mostly on reducing risks to people. However, research on the relationships between fire and the population dynamics of a range of Australian flora and fauna is now enabling fire regimes to be developed that maintain biodiversity and can be incorporated into fire management practices (Biodiversity 5.5).

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Future opportunities

A combination of integrated conservation management across landscapes and actions targeted to specific species will be needed to prevent further biodiversity declines. Programs that deliver targeted on-ground actions regionally within a strategic framework are likely to achieve the most effective outcomes.

Measures to improve connectivity across landscapes and build the health and resilience of the land will enhance the capacity of species and ecosystems to adapt to, and cope with, disturbance.

More information about the factors contributing to the resilience or success of some native species and processes, in contrast to the declines of many others, may assist in efforts to maintain sustainable populations of flora and fauna species.

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Contents SoE 2012 View printable page Last modified: December 2012